Trigger warning: This article recounts an instance of street harrassment which may be triggering to survivors.
Isy Abraham-Raveson ’15 is a talented musician, dedicated feminist and avid baker. On campus, she is an active member of the Feminist Collective and Zambezi group. What she brings in common to all of these, however, is her shining and unbridled passion. We sat down with Abraham-Raveson to find out what keeps her going.
Can you tell us about what sparked your passion for feminism?
I think I identified as a feminist for as long as I can remember, since I was little, but I definitely didn’t have a good grasp on what that meant until I came to Williams. I certainly felt like a feminist in high school and knew about international oppression of women and even domestic issues that affected women, but not me personally. But getting to Williams … made me very aware of my gender and the way it affected how people perceived me. … My entry was the first time I felt silenced – and silenced because of my gender and because of my feminism. As I began to move out of my entry space and into other communities and spaces, that is I think where I began to get most vocal about feminism on this campus as I began to meet people who saw things more similarly. And I got involved in the Feminist Collective my junior year, and that’s when I started to get involved in programming and events and become a leader of feminists on campus, I suppose.
How you have seen your role on campus as a member of the Collective?
It’s been very cool to have intentional goals starting junior fall of making the Feminist Collective become a presence on campus so I think that’s something we’ve actually achieved. We made shirts and a new logo and tried to establish the fact that we existed. I think at this point, people really know what the Feminist Collective is … we now have a pretty big audience. This is the first time that’s been true, so that’s been exciting, and it allows us to do more interesting things. Like now we’re able to have conversations about things in our general meetings like taking up space and being an ally and things like that that we weren’t able to do before.
Can you talk about the protest on Paresky balcony you had some involvement in this fall?
Oh, that was for a class, and that’s anonymous. But I can say that … what can I say about it? I can’t talk about whether I was involved or how involved I was but I think it was really cool. It was a group of women who decided to heal by yelling about their anger about rape culture on Williams campus, and from what I hear, that was a pretty positive and powerful experience for them. And it was fun to watch, I think. The chorus [of what the group yelled] was: “Pussy revolution, mass masturbation, pussy revolution, fuck the male gaze, pussy revolution, burn down rape culture, pussy revolution, burn down and riot.” The lyrics were written by a group of women who talked about different experiences they had on campus with street harassment or men just disrespecting their space, and the fact that the administration is largely more concerned with alums and our image as a school than with actually curbing sexual assault on campus.
And then that went on the Facebook and stuff, right?
Yeah, it’s on YouTube. It’s called “Burn down rape culture.”
I heard there was a fire?
Yeah, I know that people involved were trying to set a fire to literally burn down rape culture because it was intentionally a tribute to Pussy Riot, and [they] always do illegal things. So I know the original intent of the protesters was to climb onto the balcony of Sawyer with rock-climbing equipment, but that ended up being a little complicated so they definitely attempted to start a fire, but the wind made that a little difficult. So it ended up being perfectly legal, which was a disappointment to some.
What was most memorable about your experience studying abroad?
Not to be cliché, but the host family relationship was pretty special and not in the way I expected it to be either … they definitely didn’t feel equivalent to my parents. … Building those relationships was really uncomfortable and hard at first and really rewarding in the end. When I first got there, I would wake up in the morning and everyone was just out of the house, milking cows and doing various things. I sort of wandered out of my room, second day in Uganda, and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t know if I should get out of their way, or talk to them, or if that’s distracting, or if I should just go read a book, or if that’s lazy … I didn’t know how to navigate that at all. So really slowly working through that and eventually being comfortable coming home from classes and sitting down next to my host mother peeling matoke and knowing that she was happy to have company even if we weren’t actively talking and that was a normal way to interact was positive.
You studied abroad in Kampala, Uganda. What was the biggest challenge of being in a foreign country?
A big challenge of being in Uganda was being a woman in public. It was hard to have gone in with the goal of making human connections and then have so much of that being tainted with fear of sexual violence or sexual harassment. I started carrying my knife-pepper spray comb everywhere I went. I still carry the combo wherever I go – I have it in my backpack right now. Because there was one time I was followed home when I was trying to walk home after midnight by myself, which I knew I wasn’t supposed to do, but I was mad that I wasn’t supposed to do it, and a man threatened me and talked to me in a very scary way for the 45-minute walk all the way to my door. It was deeply disempowering, so now I carry a knife to hopefully avoid such experiences in the future.
So your interest in music – a totally different note.
[Laughs.] That was a good one.
What can you say about your involvement in Zambezi?
Zambezi is great. I’ve been in it since my freshman fall and I’m now the TA. It’s a really great community – it was definitely the first community I found at Williams where I felt people wanted to say and listened to each other. We have dinner together every Tuesday and Thursday and throw parties for everyone’s birthdays and for every holiday we have a gift exchange – it’s a pretty serious community.
Are you always as happy performing as you look?
Yes. We’re so much happier. Sometimes we can’t smile as much as we want to because were focused on getting the notes right but our souls are smiling really big. It’s that much fun, for real.
And you also play the banjo, not for Zambezi? How long have you played?
Yes. I started playing the clawhammer banjo here at the end of sophomore year because of the Pay It Ephward auction – that’s my least favorite pun. I won a free banjo lesson with Marshall Akita [’15]. It’s just a really fun thing to do, I’m really into clawhammer banjo. It’s the kind of instrument I just put on my back when I’m going to a park – bring my banjo and my book and sort of switch back and forth between what I’m doing.
Tell us about your baking.
Because of [a project], I started baking every day in high school. It’s pretty cathartic – something to do while I watch TV or at the end of the day. I like to do it by hand; it’s a good way to physically engage with the cookie.
What is your favorite kind of cookie to make?
My default cookie is a chocolate-chocolate chip recipe that I adapted from an online blog’s red velvet cookie recipe. I just made vegan curry pumpkin chocolate cookies with a friend at Yale a few weeks ago, and those were great, so those are top of my list right now to make again. It was just a little bit of curry. They were great. I’m really just into trying a lot of different cookies and varieties of cookies.
Any closing statements?
I hope that everybody graduates from Williams and seeks fulfilling and just and community-filled futures for themselves. That’s my hope for this community. Don’t do what you think you should do, do what’s good for you, and for the world.